Among the objects on display in the Carter Reception Center museum is a gold watch made by renowned watch and clockmaker Thomas Tompion of England. Born in Bedfordshire in 1639, Tompion apprenticed to a London clockmaker when he was 25. A decade later, Tompion set up shop at The Dial and Three Crowns at Fleet Street, where he produced over 650 clocks and 5,500 watches until his death in 1713.
Historic Christ Church & Museum’s Tompion watch, signed and numbered by the maker, dates to 1711-1713 and is 22-carat gold. Robert “King” Carter gave the watch to his daughter Elizabeth, who in 1724 married Dr. George Nicholas of Williamsburg. The watch descended through the Nicholas family until it was purchased by Robert Hill Carter II, who left it to his son Beirne Blair Carter. Beirne Carter and his daughter Mary Ross Carter Hutcheson loaned the watch to HCC&M in 1976 for display in the museum.
Few colonial Virginians could afford such an item. Retired Colonial Williamsburg curator Graham Hood says the watch speaks to Robert Carter’s status as the most powerful Virginian of his day:
“It never occurred to me that a Virginian of that time would be up to the level of such an upscale consumer item until I saw the gold pocket watch that “King” Carter had owned, now on display at the Carter family museum at Christ Church, Lancaster County. A rich and heavy object, it says more about the social posture and ambition of that man than almost anything else I know.”